#3. Potential "Land Mine" Phrases
The most common postnatal faux pas that people are afraid of committing is misidentifying a boy as a girl, or vice versa. (The most common prenatal faux pas, of course, is misidentifying belly fat as a baby.)
I'm pretty sure this happened because one guy asked the other guy, "When's it due?"
Most parents understand that it's hard to tell at that age, especially when they mess with your mind by dressing the baby in yellow or putting a fake mustache and a dress on him/her. But some of them will bite your head off, and especially when you're talking to acquaintances or strangers, you have no idea if it's going to be one of those people.
Other parents can be really really particular about which phrases they will complain to the Internet about. Like apparently if you remark on how big the baby is getting, you are calling him a freakish monster?
Maybe that person's got her reasons for being upset at those phrases, maybe she's just heard them too many times, but I just feel like if I was talking to this person, I would want a lawyer with me.
"I suggest you go with 'Your baby is clearly of the gender you intend to present him or her as.'"
#2. Holding the Baby Looks Like a Comedy Routine
I know a lot of "baby people," and watching them handle a baby is like watching a well-oiled machine as the baby just slides effortlessly into their arms in a position perfect for studio photographs. The total time elapsed from "Let me hold him" to photo pose is about 1.5 seconds.
Easy as that.
When someone hands me a baby, he goes sideways, backwards, back around the other way and ends up clamped to my chest with his face smashed into my shoulder so he can't breathe. Someone fiddles with my hands, people give a lot of instructions along the lines of "No, put your hand under ... no your other hand," and finally when it's all done I look down at this awkwardly squashed kid who is staring at me like he can't believe anyone would hold a human baby this way.
"HELP ME! THIS LADY HAS NO IDEA WHAT SHE IS DOING!"
All the adults are being very polite and telling me I am doing a great job, but the baby sees through this bullshit. "You are the worst baby holder I have ever been held by," he is telling me with his dubious and mildly exasperated expression, with his chin jammed uncomfortably into his chest.
"Yeah ... I don't think you're doing this right."
In addition to the humiliation of a baby seeing through my facade, I'm also terrified of dropping him, or breaking his neck. Most people have heard that it's VERY IMPORTANT (capital letters included) to support a baby's head when holding him. It's true, it's important to support the baby's head (for the first few months), but I think a lot of inexperienced baby holders, when given the most important thing in someone's life, have this mental image that if they don't support the head at all times, it will snap right off and the baby will die instantaneously. Which, as you can imagine, puts this person in a state of sheer panic during the whole transfer.
I think my brother got a little tired of watching me take the baby like I was trying to switch a golden idol with a bag of sand, and told me, "He's not that fragile, you know." He's right. You can't toss around a baby like a basketball or anything, but babies past the early months can be handed casually from person to person without the Temple of Doom treatment.
As far as I know, babies cannot trigger boulder traps.
Still, my nephew is a little guy. I could easily snap him in half. And my brother's got a lot of pounds on me, so I'd probably be next. I don't think I want to take any chances.
#1. Not Knowing What to Say to Babies
Arguably the most awkward interaction for non-baby people isn't with the parents or other adults, but with the baby herself. Baby people are going to think this is ridiculous, because she's a baby! She doesn't know etiquette. She can't tell if you're blurting out the wrong thing. There's no one you should feel more free around!
"Come on. You can tell me anything."
I think that is a lot of what makes up a non-baby person, or at least a certain type of one. We're self-conscious with a slight paranoid edge and have this nagging feeling that other people are judging us. Even though we logically know that a baby can't judge people, we can't shake that weird vibe.
I don't live in a bubble, I know how people talk to babies -- talk about how cute they are, remark on what they're doing, make faces, smile, ask rhetorical questions ("What's that? You want your binky?"), wave brightly colored objects at them, whatever. Whenever I'm confronted with a baby, though, I usually end up saying something like "Hi." Which I suddenly realize is pretty stupid. Which makes me even more self-conscious. Then I nix everything else I think of saying and we just stare at each other like gunfighters at high noon.
"Your move, lady."
Sure, I could just start making silly faces and noises, but that usually goes even worse, because apparently I am a complete failure at silly faces, and the baby just stares straight at me with a look of severe disappointment. I know babies that young can't be judgmental, but everything about that face is saying, "Really? This is what you've got?" Any comedian knows the most chilling response to putting it all out there is cold, dead silence, and it can't be any more humiliating than when it comes from a baby.
"You're telling me this is your best material."
It doesn't get any better when they talk. I was recently tasked with occupying a friend's toddler for a half hour or so, and tried to draw things for him. Unfortunately, everything he wanted was a character from Thomas the Tank Engine, and (1) I don't know that series and (2) he can't quite make actual words yet. So he kept asking for "Go-da!" which at some times meant "Gordon" and at other times I think meant "Go there," and I think I was always doing the opposite of the one he wanted. So I got a lot of helpless stares, disappointed "no"s and resigned sighs from a two-and-a-half year old, which is as humbling as it gets.
Thomas And Friends
Apparently the problem was I was drawing a smokestack on Gordon.
By the time I handed him back to his mom, I was just glad that he hadn't burst into tears or fired me for my unprecedented incompetency. The half hour felt like it had been 10 hours of failing every simple request given to me by a toddler. I told his mom, who said, "Oh, I don't understand a thing he says, either."
So I don't know, man, maybe babies are disappointed in all of us, and we've just got to suck it up.
For more from Christina, check out 4 Recurring Myths We Apparently Really Want to Believe and The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women (Like Me!) Make On The Internet.